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 June 12, 2003

Click to view a 1 MB movie of these auroras in motion...

Aurora Australis
Photo credit: ISS Expedition 7 science officer Ed Lu, NASA

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June 12, 2003: On June 2nd, Earth entered a high-speed solar wind stream. Its source: a coronal hole on the sun. Solar wind gusts shook Earth's magnetic field and sparked bright auroras for days.

The International Space Station (ISS) was over the Indian Ocean, southwest of Australia, on June 3rd when Expedition 7 science officer Ed Lu looked out the window and saw these Southern Lights--aurora australis. He grabbed his digital camera and took a rapid-fire sequence of images, which we have stitched together into a movie.

Spanning 3 minutes and 17 seconds, the movie reveals a lot of activity: There are multiple glowing arcs, and bright knots of light that grow, divide and vanish. During ISS Expedition 6, astronaut Don Pettit likened such auroras to something alive: "green glowing amoebas."

The movie also illustrates why a special barndoor tracker is needed for long-exposure Earth photography--but not for astrophotography. The ISS circles Earth traveling 17,500 mph. The nearby planet races past the window much faster than the more distant stars. (The four stars hanging above Earth's limb are the brightest stars of the southern constellation Corvus.)

Solar activity has been high this week, which means more auroras--and more great photos--are possible during the days ahead.

Today's picture, ISS007-E-06077, was captured using a digital camera and an 50 mm lens. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts may be viewed at the NASA-JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

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Credits & Contacts
Author: Dr. Tony Phillips
Responsible NASA official: Ron Koczor
Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator: Bryan Walls
Media Relations: Catherine Watson